Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

The Decline of Public Education

September 11, 2016

Long time readers of this blog may recall I have written numerous articles (see “education”) about the decline and eventual fall of the public education system in this country. Here is one of the tens of thousands of excellent articles I have read on the subject. Nearly all of the articles lamenting this trend are written by teachers; in the meanwhile, the politicians and private industry moguls who control the system just keep smiling all the way to the bank.

This article sounds like when I went back to the Oakland (CA) School District to apply for a job. I was told there was this scripted curriculum, so I asked how I could accommodate individual learning styles and promote interest. I was told, “Well, that’s difficult.” Needless to say, I said thanks, but I’ll go elsewhere.

That is one of the biggest differences between high performing schools and low performing schools. None of the high performing schools I’ve taught at limit what additional materials the teacher can introduce, nor discourage personal teaching styles designed to appeal to individual students.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/8-things-the-us-must-do-now-to-save-public-education_us_57d4af40e4b0273330ac42f5?fb_action_ids=1258265067541383&fb_action_types=og.comments

A Great Article on Promoting Science to Children!

July 29, 2016

This article, from the Indiana Writers’ Conference, was near and dear to my heart! I tried to use the same techniques, especially humor and research to make certain the science was accurate, in my YA novel “Miranda’s Magic”. I think it’s great that other writers are using fiction to promote an understanding and love of science in children.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

To Instill Love of Earth Sciences in Younger Minds

by Hardarshan S. Valia

From my nascent days of schooling in the small town of Chindwara, India, I’ve marveled at the colorful canvas of rocks displaying flow of highly colored minerals. I was lucky enough to follow my passion of the Earth’s history through schooling into my work place at Inland Steel (now Arcelor Mittal) R&D Laboratories, East Chicago, Indiana. My professional life was dedicated to studying carbon usage in the steel industry. There, I studied with amazement the magical formation of colorful carbon forms during the coal-to-coke carbonization process. To an untrained eye, coal and coke are dirty-looking materials. But looking under an optical microscope, seeing how the organic entities in coal melt into nematic liquid crystals that come closer and seem to talk to each other as they coalesce into a beautiful entity called coke, one falls in love with nature’s wonder. It is this intoxicating interaction with science that I wanted to share with others.

No, no, I did not run like Archimedes shouting, “Eureka!” because the coal-to-coke carbonization phenomenon had been observed for years, but I started to go to nearby schools to help children see the beauty of earth materials that I saw and continue to see. My work travels had taken me to many parts of the world where I would take every opportunity to amass my collection of rocks, minerals, and fossils. Like a folk storyteller, armed with my earth wares and wealth of stories, I would sing the Song of Earth and tell stories of Earth’s Evolution to children who, in my biased opinion, loved it very much. After the end of class, they were allowed to handle the specimens and make their own observations. Those years of telling tales finally ended up in my taking on a project of writing a book where my protagonist describes the evolution of life through various geologic times.

There are four points I consider in writing for children to make Geology/Earth Science attractive to them.

1) Make it scientifically correct.

Stories/films are frequently endowed with creative licenses; the brain evolves and knowledge-hungry children are able to sort out facts from fiction. This means, yes, there is a role for Science Fiction for children in an effort to ignite the “What If” moment. However, misconception should not be created when writing science genre for children. Presentation of scientific facts must be based on what we currently understand as valid science. In my story, some characters are fantastical but the science of Earth’s history is accurate.

2) Show large scale geologic phenomenon in simple form.

Example:

To show that Mountains are formed when rocks are folded or uplifted, I show them an actual slab of Marble from China where a layer of Iron-rich brown/black mineral is folded into mini-mountains amidst the backdrop of white marble.

3) Connect the unknown to the known

Example:

To show that two organisms probably evolved from a common ancestor, I show them a large rock slab that contains two straight shelled Orthoceras and three coiled shelled Ammonite fossil types of Cephalopod fossils from the Atlas Mountain Range of Southern Morocco (See Figure 2).

The fossils are from the Devonian age (359-416 million years ago). I connect them to the current relatives of Cephalopod as follows:

4) Anthropomorphism and humor are effective techniques

Example:

To make it interesting in my story, I portray how my protagonist is drowning due to turbulence in the ocean and is rescued by a cephalopod who grabs the protagonist and provides shelter in its chamber. To give interest to my fossil character, I make them talk and exhibit all ranges of anthropomorphism.

Here is a scene in my story when the protagonist first meets a Mastodon before the start of the ice age.

“Sunny, why do you carry that trunk?” I wanted to know.

“I was the Sheppard for the Pigsty family. I used my trunk as a rope to encircle smaller pigsty.” He spoke as a stand-up comedian with a serious look on his face.

“Come on, that’s not the real reason.” I knew that he was kidding around.

“I was a circus acrobat. I used my trunk to swing from the high rope,” he said seriously.

“Oh, really!” I wanted to tease him. “Show us your great swings on this tree!” I pointed to a large tree trunk before me.

“That tree won’t take my weight. I need a big tree.” He knew fully well there was no tree in sight that would support his weight.

“Come on! I need to know now. Why do you carry that trunk?” I was getting impatient.

“O.K., O.K., Small Doodle!” That is the name he used for me whenever he showed affection. Then he continued, “A big body needs big hands, a big mouth, and a big stomach so our noses and upper lips became elongated, resembling a hand-like feature, allowing us to pick up food from the ground or pluck leaves from the trees.” He said the entire thing in one breath.

“Very interesting!” I exclaimed. His explanation made perfect sense. I marveled at nature’s evolutionary processes.

This approach is how I disseminate the beauty and the science of Earth through story telling and writing to those well on their passageway from childhood to adulthood.

__________

Hardarshan S. Valia has published stories, essays, and poems in magazines such as: Huffington Post, NWI Times, Urthona, Hub, Bitterroot, Iron & Steel Technology, Sikhnet, Sikhchic, and Sikh Review. A story entitled “India…ana” will be published in a book entitled “Undeniably Indiana” by Indiana University Press in August 2016. During his tenure as Staff Scientist at Inland Steel (now Arcelor Mittal) R&D Laboratories, East Chicago, he contributed mostly to science journals and science books. He is married and has two children. He is a member of Indiana Writers’ Consortium, Magic Hour Writers Group, Write on Hoosiers and SCBWI.

Posted by Indiana Writers’ Consortium at 12:00 AM No comments:

Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to FacebookShare to Pinterest

Labels: Hardarshan S. Valia, writing for children

A Monotheistic View of the Roles of Women (part 2)

February 20, 2016

Because women were clearly prevalent in the practice of medicine before the advent of the god-man, it is perhaps most surprising that such women existed after the ascension of the male monotheism, as opposed to what they achieved. What is probably most significant about the medical school at Salerno, other than being recognized as an institution representing a high, formal standard of medical training, is that it set the stage for medical licensing.

Solerno“It is easy to understand that the attraction which Salerno possessed for patients soon also brought to the neighborhood a number of irregular physicians, travelling quacks, and charlatans. Wealthy patients were coming from all over the world to be treated at Salerno. Many of them doubtless were sufferers from incurable diseases and nothing could be done for them. Often they would be quite unable to return to their homes and would be surely unwilling to give up all hope if anybody promised them anything of relief. There was a rich field for the irregular, and of course, as always, he came. Salerno had already shown what a good standard of medical education should be, and it is not surprising, then, that the legal authorities in this part of the country proceeded to the enforcement of legal regulations demanding the attainment of this standard, in order that unfit and unworthy physicians might not practise medicine to their own benefit but to the detriment of the patients.

“Accordingly, as early as the year 1140, King Ruggiero (Roger) of the Two Sicilies promulgated the law: ‘Whoever from this time forth desires to practise medicine must present himself before our officials and judges, and be subject to their decision. Anyone audacious enough to neglect this shall be punished by imprisonment and confiscation of goods. This decree has for its object the protection of the subjects of our kingdom from the dangers arising from the ignorance of practitioners.'” (Anonymous, 1911)

A century later, in 1240, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II extended and formalized this into law for the entire Holy Roman Empire. Because many countries were still in strife over secular rulers, resulting in the civil authorities being weak, the legal ordering of the practice of medicine was effectively taken up by the Church, and the authority for the issuance of licenses to practice was in the hands of the bishops of the neighborhood. (Anonymous, 1911) Because the Church and temporal rulers were male dominated, this law set the stage for the eventual elimination of women as rivals in the field of medicine. This was bloodily carried out over several centuries. As the “witch trials” of women who practiced medicine (as well as men who practiced chiropractic medicine) is well documented, we will now turn our attention away from the sciences and back to the question of women practicing in the visual arts.

BoccaccioIronically, the very qualities that were desired in a medieval period woman were those that the male artists and their patrons used to degrade female artists. Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 – 1375, right), a famous Italian painter and writer, stated that the ideal woman “must be gentle, modest, honest, dignified, elegant in speech, pious, generous in soul, chaste and skilled in household management.” All areas related to “femininity” were denigrated as not being “high art”.

This view is demonstrated by Adrianna Mena: “Up until the nineteenth century, when women were mentioned in art historical texts, it was a matter of exception. For example, in Vasari’s The Lives of the Most Prominent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Sofonisba Anguissola is mentioned. However, Anguissola was the daughter of an Italian noble, and sometimes painted self-portraits showing her seated at a musical instrument accompanied by a chaperone, which removed the focus from her artistic ability to her social status and membership to the cultured elite. Her class position rendered her activity as an artist both possible and worthy of notice and comment, not her talent. In an earlier text by Boccacio, several women are mentioned, but he writes: ‘I thought these achievements worthy of some praise, for art is much alien to the mind of women, and these things cannot be accomplished without a great deal of talent which in women is usually very scarce.’ Clearly he holds no regard for these women’s talent, but only mentions them to emphasize their difference from the supposed average woman.” (Mena, 2005)

VessariIt seems that, as long as the artwork did not challenge the confines of what men determined as feminine or proper, then it was sanctioned. As far as the male artists and critics were concerned, if a woman could excel in larger works of art, then the men would have to work harder to prove that they were better or more gifted and more intelligent than women. Being an artistic genius was solely reserved as a male prerogative (Chadwick, 2007). Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574, right) was an Italian painter, writer, historian, and architect, who is famous today for his biographies of Italian artists. He proved Chadwick’s assertion by stating: “should women apply themselves too diligently, they risk appearing to ‘wrest from us the palm of supremacy’.” In essence, the prevailing belief was that females should remain “pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen.”

During this era, most of the women who were allowed to perform art, on very limited subjects, were nuns. “Early Middle Ages art was initially restricted to the production of Pietistic painting (religious art) in the form of illuminated manuscripts, mosaics and fresco paintings in churches. Both monks and nuns were the main artists during the Middle Ages. The women who became nuns were responsible for many illuminated manuscripts.” (The Middle Ages Website, 2011)

EndeEnde of Spain (left) was one of the 10th -11th Century illuminators of Beatus Apocalypse of Gerona. Guda, Claricia, Diemud, and Harrade von Landsberg were 12th Century nuns and manuscript illuminators in Germany. (Many nuns were either anonymous or known only by their first names because nuns renounced all earthly values and possessions, even their born names.) Caterina dei Vigri (1413-1463) was skilled not only in painting, but in music and illumination. She became Abess of the Convent of the Poor Clares and was canonized; she is regarded as the patron saint of painters. Bourgot, while not a nun, was a 14th Century professional French illuminator, and she also produced some of the best miniatures of the period. Maria Ormani, a 15th Century Florentine nun of the Augustinian order, was quite prolific. There are many more women mentioned in connection with religious art during this period, but almost all were nuns.

de_Rossi 2Then it seemed society loosened up a little, but only for very small, limited productions. Properzia de’ Rossi (left) was born c.1490 in Bologna, Italy. She studied drawing under Marcantonio Raimondi. De’ Rossi was at first known for her complex miniature sculptures using an unorthodox medium of apricot, peach or cherry stones. In her thirties, she began to produce normal-sized sculptures like portrait busts, and these helped establish her reputation as a serious artist. She was also commissioned to decorate the altar of Santa Maria del Baraccano in Bologna, and she won a competition to produce marble sculpture for the church of San Pedro in Bologna. Suzanne de Court (c. 1600) was a French enameller; the daughter of Jean de Court, she learned the art of enameling from her father.

Toward the end of the Medieval Period, as both Martin Luther and then Henry VIII were challenging the power of the Catholic Church, a few women artists were allowed to study, primarily thanks to indulgent fathers who did not want their daughters to waste their talent. However, these non-clergy female artists were still very limited in many ways, even as their male counterparts soared to new heights of challenge and creativity.

During the Renaissance period, a period of great cultural change that spanned the period from the end of the 13th Century to about 1600 AD, the new linear perspective form of art developed. Because this new type of art required advanced mathematical skills, it was denied to women. At this time, although it would mean becoming more isolated, should a woman wish to continue her education and still paint, the convent remained one of her two options. It should be noted that many such options were not only denied to women, but restricted in the sense of being the domain of white, upper-class males. “Male privilege and male lines of property and succession were strongly valued.” (Chadwick, 2007)

There was a strong focus on men being able to paint the nude figure, a very difficult task to master as it required knowledge of anatomy and physiology. However, women were barred from studying the nude body. The repeating theme seems to be to “veil their eyes, act with modesty; to know everything is not in accord with chastity.” This attitude is magnified in the ultimate patriarchal religion, Islam. In accord with this attitude, women were only allowed to be educated to become “better wives and mothers, and more virtuous exemplars of the Christian ideals of chastity.” (Chadwick, 2007).

SofonisbaIt was then that Sofonisba Anguissola (1532 – 1625) entered onto the scene. She evidently chose to remain unmarried for a number of years, as it was impossible to reconcile an artistic career with the domestic life: a husband, children, and running a household. Thankfully, her father, Amilcare Anguissola, a minor noble and wealthy land owner, wanted both of his daughters to express their talents, and sought the support of professional tutors. Training for male painters meant at least four years in an artist’s workshop; Sofonisba was trained, with her sister Elena, by Bernardino Campi and Bernardino Gatti for at least three years, and perhaps more with Michelangelo. Still, she did not receive any training with nudes of any kind and was not able to do large-scale works of art. Again within the constraints of her era, she did many images of women.

Her artwork seems direct, her hands and facial expressions are precise and very lovely. Her painting “Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola” is wonderful, partly in that she restrains

Click!

herself and acknowledges “the role of a woman as an object of representation.” We see how she places her instructor looking directly at the viewer, while she, being painted, does not quite have eye contact with the viewer. Since she is an unmarried woman, she needs to maintain her modesty. In her paintings, there is always the qualities so valued in this society, and reflects the “Renaissance ideal of the artist as gentleman/woman rather than the artisan” (Chadwick, 2007).

Sofonisba Anguissola’s “Self-Portrait” shows a prim, proper woman playing the spinet, supervised by her chaperone. As an artist in a man’s domain, she brought forth the inner beauty of her subjects. She was a guest at the Spanish court for years. It is hard to imagine her remaining an insider to the royal family and having access to painting the female members with such a special relationship should she have been married, and expected to assume the responsibilities that marriage implies. Also, along with marriage, she would have lost a certain innocence. Being a wife, homemaker and mother is a full-time occupation; Anguissola would not have had the time to be creative, as opposed to a man who would not have to split his time and energy.

For a combination of reasons, one of the stronger woman artists of this era was Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1652/1653). Partly it is because the Catholic Church was losing some of its power, but it was undoubtedly also partly due to the support of her father, Orazio, who seemed to me more interested in her expertise as an artist than his own. He worked in the Caravaggesque style, and passed this on to his daughter. She was expertly taught. Her theme was strong, heroic, sensuous women who triumphed via their virtue. Her first known painting, “Susanna and the Elders” (right), is controversial for several reasons. Some theories state that this was a father-daughter combination. The painting has Susanna in the nude, which women just did not do. Also, Susanna is not in a very graceful position, and is placed in the center of the viewer’s eye; all of this is new and “too masculine” for a woman to paint.

Then came the pivotal event in the life of Artemisia Gentileschi. While her father was encouraging her artistic education, he hired a private tutor for her by the name of Agostino Tassi. Tassi either seduced or raped her, and then went back on his word to marry her. At the heart of the matter was not the rape, but the violation of her father’s “property”, as women in the household were considered the chattel of the man at that time. To add insult to injury, she was forced to undergo a pelvic examination and was tortured by using thumbscrews during the trial to give “true” testimony. Certainly, after her very public trial, she had pretty much been exposed to the general public and did not have much if anything to hide or repress. Having no “modesty” left to lose, her paintings took on more of a vengeful nature. Rumors have it that she used the exposure of her rape to advance her career by painting such work as “Judith Decapitating Holofernes”, where Holofernes strongly resembled Tassi.

Giuditta_decapita_Oloferne

Artemisia Gentileschi decided that she would depict nudes at a time that women were not allowed to study nude figures, and Joachim van Sandart may have asserted that she covertly painted from live nude models (Bissell, 1999). Although she was only allowed to paint women from the Bible, she selected scenes that showed women who sought vengeance against men for vile acts. Her colors are extremely rich, and her characters are quite powerful. Her painting of “Judith Decapitating Holofernes (right)” shows a determined, strong, capable woman, along with her co-conspirator maidservant, both set with purposeful, direct action. This is a painting by a woman who had broken down all of her societal barriers, and she was now free to paint without restriction. The firm hold of Judith on her sword, the spray of the blood that shows the carotid was severed, implies that Gentileschi was resisting the conventions of being unable to study nudes or corpses. Furthermore, just the hint of red in Judith’s dress sleeve and also the one on her maidservant indicated that they were not afraid to have blood on their hands to do what they felt was right. It may be reading too much into the symbolism of this painting, but the fact that the sword is in the middle of the painting cutting off his head could also represent cutting off his penis, and therefore Gentileschi/Judith was emasculating the man who raped her, and perhaps those who would deny her anatomical studies.

Artemisia_GentileschiViewing her “Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting” (left), it is almost as if Gentileschi were thumbing her nose at the male artists and critics to say: “Deny me the males-only club of learning from nudes; I will still show you a true artist in action”. She seems to be completely absorbed in work, the light is on her skin, illuminating her, her hair is disheveled, and yet she is feminine with her gold chain around her neck and her graceful dress swirling about her. She might well have said: “I grant I am a woman, but withal a woman well reputed, Orazio’s daughter”, to paraphrase Portia in “Julius Caesar”. Gentileschi is completely fearless, and frank in her actions.

Gentileschi broke the bounds of the last hurdle that women had to get over by being the first Italian woman able to paint general historical scenes, perhaps because those required many human figures in the work, and nudes in particular. Following her example, Angelica Kauffmann (1741 – 1807), although very shy, challenged the Royal Academicians for their monopoly over historical paintings. Her work, “Zeuxis Selecting Models for His Picture of Helen of Troy” (below), reflects a subdued and graceful art. She was a very hard worker, and she was famous and beloved by the people. She was extremely well-known for her designs in china service, engravings, wall paintings, and portraits. But her love was for historical paintings.

Angelica Kauffmann: Zeuxis Selecting Models for his Picture of Helen of Troy c1778:

While Kauffmann was attempting to pierce the world of male historical painters, she was accused of being unable to have full-bodied work, due to her inability to paint nudes. Of course, this training was denied to her. Consequently, she strove to capture moral content and noble movements in her historical scenes. When viewing “The Beautiful Rhodope in Love with Aesop”, it certainly appears that Kauffmann’s male figures are more effeminate, rather than strongly masculine. But her colors are extremely rich, and the hands and feet are accurate. Her work displays a tenderness and relaxed mood to it. During this era, it seemed as if the critics were looking for more severe, action packed, forceful arenas of history. Not being privy to the same privileges as men, she just had a different style of painting history.

“The Family of the Earl of Gower” is representative of Kauffmann’s neoclassical style. This picture is again very subdued, a calm moment in a family, which is quite restrained. While she may have found it very hard to overcome the restrictions of her sex in regards to painting historical scenes, Kaufmann led the way for female artists after herself. “In 1769, Angelica Kauffman (right) Angelica Kauffmann by Angelica Kauffmann.jpgand Mary Moser helped found the British Royal Academy. After Kauffman and Moser, no woman was allowed membership in the British Royal Academy itself until Annie Louise Swynnerton became an Associate Member in 1922 and Laura Knight was elected to full membership in 1936.” (Mena, 2005) In spite of the leadership and determination shown by Kauffman and Moser, it seems the men were still determined to be sexist in regard to talent. “So long as a woman remains from unsexing herself, let her dabble in anything. The woman of genius does not exist. When she does, she is a man.” (Anonymous, 19th Century art commentator)

While all artists had to traverse obstacles placed in their way by the Church, females had to overcome the male-centric artistic society, and society as a whole. The restrictions placed on women by a limited education was bad enough, but they were still not overtly able to see anything that might further encourage their minds either technically or creatively. Even if a woman was lucky enough to be born of nobility or to a family with money, she could still be excluded from studying and practicing serious art. Other than a few indulgent fathers, the men acted like they were protecting the females in their lives, while actually asserting their dominance.

Where women were concerned, the Middle Ages were truly the “dark ages”. Fortunately, today the patriarchal Christian Church has lost most of its power, and women have regained much of their independence-at least, in the non-Islamic world. They can study any subject they wish. They can enjoy both a family and a profession. They can be both strong and successful and still maintain their femininity. And, if they have the talent, they can also be great artists or scientists.
I would like to give credit to my sister, Ursula Funk, who helped with the research and writing.

A Monotheistic View of the Roles of Women

February 17, 2016

 

Part I of 2

During the untold centuries that polytheism held sway, women and men were essentially equal. Because the population was small and survival was difficult, most cultures accepted the fact that every person in the group had to do whatever work they were capable of to help the clan or tribe stay alive, and perhaps even grow. Those societies often pursued agriculture and animal husbandry as primary food production activities, rather than strictly being nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes.  huntress   While women were occasionally members of a hunting party, they were certainly intrinsic to growing crops and herding animals. Healing the sick and creating art for various purposes were also important tasks, and women either shared or led in both of those endeavors. Religion was certainly very important to primitive humans, and women were also leaders in that facet of life. What changed that balance, and when did it happen? There are a number of factors that diminished the roles of women in society, especially in the arts and sciences, but the primary catalyst was a major shift in religion, from polytheism to a male-dominated monotheism.

As early as the Upper Paleolithic era, some 250,000 years ago, various tools and iconography demonstrate primitive religions existed, and possibly existed up to 250,000 years before that (Campbell, 1988; Gimbutas, 1991; and Jelínek, 1975). Women served vital roles. In addition to sharing equally in the daily work, goddesses were more predominant than gods (both earth goddess/fertility symbols as well as those serving other purposes), and priestesses were just as prevalent as priests. Although no one can ever know, it is presumed that the artwork found in caves and other places depicting various aspects of the lives of early humans could have been created by women as well as men. What is known is that women were the primary healers of the clan.

Throughout various ancient cultures, medical practices were limited to prayers and incantations, and a basic use of plant materials. priestessA large number of diverse cultures, such as the Amazon and Ona of South America, the civilizations of ancient Crete and Eastern Europe, and the oldest of cultures from Sumer, have myths or artifacts from a very early time showing that women were the primary keepers of the healing and magical arts.
(Gimbutas & Campbell, 2001)

The medieval period is generally regarded as beginning in Byzantium during the very early stages of the Eastern Roman Empire, and lasting for more than a thousand years (approximately 3rd Century AD to the 15th Century). Between conquest and forming alliances, the Romans brought the new religion of Christianity to the Byzantine Empire, as well as to more far-flung areas of Europe as the Germanic and Nordic countries, and as far west as the Celtic tribes in the British Isles.

In the very beginning of the medieval period, there was still some equal footing between the sexes since the lives of ordinary Roman men and women revolved around work. Because the “sensibility” of Christian views regarding nudity had not yet impacted society, works of art, both statues and paintings, featured nudes prominently. While marriage was still pretty much expected of women and at the whims of men, women could choose to live alone and work at some sort of profession. Because of the harsh demands of life, women were seen as partners, and strength and intelligence were valued qualities in both sexes. Although their services were unofficial, women were still accepted as healers and were the primary care givers. In addition, medical research was still progressing, as healers had the ability to study the human body regarding diseases and cures. Finally, women were not mere observers of history; they made it, and presumably were allowed to paint it. However, few artists “signed” their work before the Renaissance period, especially woman, so it is difficult to know when they deserved credit for various works.

However, these early medieval values changed quickly. The perception of the qualities valued in women altered to reflect this new role of the weak, submissive, unintelligent, second-class citizen. The desirable qualities in a woman during the medieval period were such “feminine qualities” as tenderness, sweetness, beauty, chastity, purity, obedience, etc. As the qualities changed, so did their roles in society. Women were barred from the trade guilds, and could only participate in education that would be helpful in their new household once they had married. To see how these changes impacted their roles, we will first explore some of their losses in the healing arts. Later, we will look at how the monotheistic society diminished the visual arts.

“Women have always been healers. They were the unlicensed doctors and anatomists of western history. They were abortionists, nurses and counsellors. healerThey were pharmacists, cultivating healing herbs and exchanging the secrets of their uses. They were midwives, travelling from home to home and village to village. For centuries women were doctors without degrees, barred from books and lectures, learning from each other, and passing on experience from neighbor to neighbor and mother to daughter. They were called “wise women” by the people, witches or charlatans by the authorities. Medicine is part of our heritage as women, our history, our birthright.” (Ehrenreich and English; 1998-2011)

Naturalistic, non-scientific medicine started early in Egypt and Mesopotamia (perhaps around 2500 BC) and, in the west, with Hippocrates (5th Century BC). Both Greece and Rome had “schools” of medicine, and Rome established hospitals for its soldiers. “Deriving knowledge from the medical treatises and methods of the Greeks, the Etruscans, the Egyptians, the Persians and other conquered peoples, the Romans came up with one of the best and most sophisticated medical systems of the ancient world. The science of medicine and the human body was evolving. Ancient Roman medicine was a combination of physical techniques using various tools and holistic medicine using rituals and religious belief systems.” (Prioreschi, 1991)

Due to the military societies of both of those powerful cultures, the roles of women began to diminish in general. However, the decreasing role caused by large, organized military forces was not as important to women as the “God-man” diminishment in their power to pursue the arts and sciences, much more so in medicine than in art. After all, this coincided with an abrupt halt to virtually all medical research in the Roman Empire, which did not change until the 16th Century: “It is commonly agreed that scientific medicine started with Vesalius (1514-1564)” (Prioreschi, 1991). What happened during that period that caused such a lapse in the advancement of medicine? And why was it suddenly jump-started once again?

anatomy“For eight long centuries, from the fifth to the thirteenth, the other-worldly, anti-medical stance of the Church had stood in the way of the development of medicine as a respectable profession. Then, in the 13th century, there was a revival of learning, touched off by contact with the Arab world. Medical schools appeared in the universities, and more and more young men of means sought medical training. The church imposed strict controls on the new profession, and allowed it to develop only within the terms set by Catholic doctrine. University-trained physicians were not permitted to practice without calling in a priest to aid and advise them, or to treat a patient who refused confession. By the fourteenth century their practice was in demand among the wealthy, as long as they continued to take pains to show that their attentions to the body did not jeopardize the soul. In fact, accounts of their medical training make it seem more likely that they jeopardized the body.” (Ehrenreich and English; 1998-2011)

In the 5th Century, the entire Roman Empire was in political and religious upheaval. Emperors rose to power and were deposed or killed within a year, and the three primary religions-paganism, Judaism and Christianity-vied in equally bloody battles for supremacy. Then in the 6th Century AD, the Emperor Constantine sought to reunite the empire. He embraced Christianity-an offshoot of the highly patriarchal Jewish religion-while incorporating many of the accepted pagan traditions.

Upon Constantine’s death, the Roman Empire degenerated once more into the many warring factions he had briefly reunited. While that highly militaristic version of the Empire may have fallen, it gave birth to a new Phoenix: the Holy Roman Empire, which gradually regained most of all the old territory, but was now controlled by religion and supported by the still powerful military force, in combination driving the new kingdom of heaven.

However, even as the Christian religion was overcoming both paganism and Judaism as the primary monotheism, a new religion was rising in the east that would soon challenge it for the loyalty of the faithful, and utterly establish the patriarchal society to the complete subjugation of women. Muhammad ibn Abdullah, born in 570 AD in the Arabian city of Mecca, began preaching his new religion at around the age of forty-three. The Qur’an gives credit to all of the Jewish patriarchs/prophets (including Jesus) as inspiring Muhammad to found Islam, an ultra-fundamentalist, ultra-patriarchal religion that took on many of the conservative tenets of Judaism. In the 6th and 7th centuries, Muslim armies conquered the Sassanid (Persian) Empire and most of the Byzantine territories, or Eastern Roman Empire. In the former Eastern Empire, women no longer had any societal positions.

As the Catholic Church became dominant in the west throughout the dying days of the Roman Empire, the patriarchal culture also subsumed all equality, and women’s roles became very limited. Mary was elevated to an ethereal saint, Magdalena was portrayed as a repentant whore, and all women (other than a few of the nobility who wielded power indirectly) became subservient to males. Where early medieval art had celebrated both sexes and allowed for many temporal works, later western art became virtually dedicated to a celebration of religious motifs with male-dominated scenes, showing women only in weak or corrupting roles (especially Eve).

 
One means of controlling females was to formally restrict education. While certain teachers (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, et alia) had conducted “classes”, thessocratese were primarily for small groups of children of the wealthy and politically powerful families. While boys gathered most of the benefit of these famous educators, many wealthy families also had their daughters receive instruction. Virtually the only formal centers of education up until this time were the churches, whether that meant the temples of various gods or goddesses, the newer Jewish temple classes, or the informal “churches” (the gatherings of believers) that were springing up under Christianity. However, eventually the abbacies were not available for women to go to for an education, and the abbots were placed in charge. No more training was given to women in the sciences (especially medicine) or the arts, and even nuns became very second-class clergy. When the Catholic Church began to yield under the pressure of a demand for the advanced medical treatments of the Arab physicians, it still ensured that women were even more excluded from acquiring such knowledge.

doctors“At this time, the role of women as healers was threatened as a result of two roughly parallel developments. The first was the evolution of European universities and their professional schools that, for the most part, systematically excluded women as students, thereby creating a legal male domination of the practice of medicine. Ineligible as healers, women waged a lengthy battle to maintain their right to care for the sick and injured. The second development was the campaign – promoted by the Church and supported by both clerical and civil authorities – to brand women healers as witches. The Church may have perceived these women, with their special, often esoteric healing skills, as a threat to its supremacy in the lives of its parishioners. The result was the persecution of unknown numbers of mostly peasant women.” (Minkowski, 1992)

When the Roman Empire fell and various monarchs battled to gain control across Europe, the Catholic Church was the only unified force. In these turbulent times, one hand washed the other: the Vatican assured the masses that the monarchs ruled “by divine will” (no matter how often the crown changed hands …), and the monarchs ensured the wealth and supremacy of the Vatican. The power of the Church was so great during this period that even kings dared not defy the Vatican on “peril of their mortal souls”. Thus, the entire male structure-political and religious-used every means at their disposal to keep the women under their heavy thumbs. Perhaps thus policy helped to mollify the masses of men, who were subject to every whim of the nobility and the clergy, by giving them a clear superiority over women. This especially went for any woman who dared to challenge a profession set aside for men, and most especially medicine.

One of the shining exceptions was Hildegard von Bingen (c. 1098 – 1179), who was a prolific writer, composer, philosopher, and poly-mathematician. While her contemporary, Ende of Spain, stuck to illustrations and did not rise above the rank of nun, Von Bingen rose high in Catholic ranks. She wrote a text on the natural sciences, Physica, as well as Causae et Curae. “She was well known for her healing powers involving practical application of tinctures, herbs, and precious stones. In both texts, Hildegard describes the natural world around her, including the cosmos, animals, plants, stones, and minerals. She combined these elements with a theological notion ultimately derived from Genesis: all things put on earth are for the use of humans. She is particularly interested in the healing properties of plants, animals, and stones, though she also questions God’s effect on man’s health.” (Wikipedia, 2011) Why was von Bingen allowed to create such diverse works, and not be prosecuted as a witch? Partly because she did not openly practice medicine, but rather studied it much as a research scientist might. Primarily, however, it is because she was a famous Christian mystic, a visionary who was later canonized as a saint. A German Benedictine abbess, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165.

As an important member of the Church, one who worked well within the confines of Catholic dogma, von Bingen was honored by the Vatican. For women who were not within the boundaries of a nunnery, however, such work would have been a totally different matter.

“The establishment of medicine as a profession, requiring university training, made it easy to bar women legally from practice. With few exceptions, the universities were closed to women (even to upper class women who could afford them), and licensing laws were established to prohibit all but university-trained doctors from practice. It was impossible to enforce the licensing laws consistently since there was only a handful of university-trained doctors compared to the great mass of lay healers. But the laws could be used selectively. Their first target was not the peasant healer, but the better off, literate woman healer who competed for the same urban clientele as that of the university-trained doctors.

“Take, for example, the case of Jacoba Felicie, brought to trial in 1322 by the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris, on charges of illegal practice. Jacoba was literate and had received some unspecified “special training” in medicine. That her patients were well off is evident from the fact that (as they testified in court) they had consulted well-known university-trained physicians before turning to her. The primary accusations brought against her were that she would cure her patient of internal illness and wounds or of external abscesses. She would visit the sick assiduously and continue to examine the urine in the manner of physicians, feel the pulse, and touch the body and limbs.” (Ehrenreich and English; 1998-2011)

Six witnesses affirmed that Felicie had cured them, even after numerous doctors had given up, and one patient declared that she was wiser in the art of surgery and medicine than any master physician or surgeon in Paris. Regardless, Felicie was barred from practicing medicine on peril of imprisonment or her life. (Ehrenreich and English; 1998-2011)

A much more controversial figure is Trotula de Ruggiero. The Schola Medica Solernitana, or Salerno School of Medicine, was a famous combination of medical knowledge and treatment gathered from throughout the known world, and it flourished between the 10th and 13th centuries. It is believed that Trotula de Ruggerio lived sometime in the 11th or 13th century, and that she occupied the chair of medicine at the School of Salerno. Some scholars dispute that de Ruggerio was a woman, or that such a person even existed. Even though the school was established from the dispensary of a monastery founded in the 9th Century and remained a close collaboration between the clergy and secular physicians, it is rumored that many women were trained as physicians and some became professors of medicine (Bois, 1996). In that age, and in that setting, such an occurrence would have indeed been miraculous.trotula

The story has it that de Ruggerio was the author of many medical works, the most notable being Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum (The Diseases of Women), also known as Trotula Major. She allegedly wrote it to educate male physicians about the female body. The book comprises sixty-three chapters and gives information about menses, conception, pregnancy, and childbirth, as well as general diseases and their treatments. As the Church forbade direct study of the human body, it is quite reasonable that such knowledge could have come from a woman, although the information might also have come from the Arab, Greek, or other foreign physicians who flocked to Solerno and taught in their native languages. Another influential book, De Aegritudinum Curatione, is credited to Trotula de Ruggerio.

Tomorrow: Part 2

I would like to give credit to my sister, Ursula Funk, who helped with the research.

The NCAA is Hypocritical About “Amateurism” for Athletes in College Sports

January 29, 2016

the-national-championship-trophyNot to hype college football, but the ongoing (and growing) clamor for a playoff system for the top eight or sixteen teams raises concerns for the health and emphasis on actual education for the so-called “student athlete”. The NCAA is already trying to come up with a solution that will make even more bazillions for Division I colleges, while exploiting the young men who play the game. For me, it just one more example of the blatant hypocrisy of both the NCAA and the college dons regarding the many regulations they impose on student-athletes in the alleged name of amateurism.

First, a little personal history of why I feel so strongly about this issue.

In the long-gone days when I was in college, I competed in many civic public speaking tournaments, sponsored by such organizations as the Rotary, Toastmasters, Lion’s Club, and even the city judicial oratorical contest. I won a number of cash prizes; nothing major, but up to $100, which was quite a bit in those days. I also competed in inter-collegiate debate and public speaking competitions. Another inter-collegiate competition I participated in, again winning certain prizes, was contract bridge. As a matter of fact, my primary side income during college was working as a professional bridge player at a local club. This involved teaching lessons, playing “rubber” bridge as a form of gambling, and being paid by clients to play with them in tournaments. At the time, my girlfriend played for the school orchestra, which participated in inter-collegiate musical competitions, and she also played for money for small local orchestras and at a few restaurants.

At the same time, I competed in tennis at a Division III university. Naturally, I was totally barred from making any money from tennis, including playing, teaching or even accepting any kind of sponsorship. And this was in Division III, where there are no scholarships, and certainly no people interested in sponsoring you (because you simply aren’t good enough to ever play professionally), but the rules were the rules for all athletes.

This is not meant as a form of bragging (well, not totally!), but rather setting the stage to ask the question: Why should my girlfriend and I be permitted to make money in the exact forms of non-athletic competitions we were involved in as a college students, when students who were on the inter-collegiate sports teams were forbidden to take a cent, in any form or manner, related to their sport, and even other sports?

Frankly, it really doesn’t take a lot of research or contemplation to figure out why. It’s simply that no or very few spectators will pay to watch those events, and there is no outside organization, such as television or radio, willing to pay colleges money in order to broadcast or otherwise make money from those other collegiate activities. In actual fact, there are really very few inter-collegiate sports that the broadcast media want, because they are not supported by commercial messages. Obviously football and basketball are, and certain major events such as the College World Series of baseball, but really not many. Of course, the NCAA, as dictated by the college presidents, insist that the broadcast media pick up many other sports as part of the package because they want to promote those sports (read: want to pretend that they value them just as much as they value the actual revenue producing sports), but how much play does the media give those other sports, and how big of an audience do they actually draw, paying or not?

Naturally, the NCAA can’t be “hypocritical” about total amateurism versus a “student athlete” making money in any of those other sports, which oddly includes golf, which is about as athletic as the contract bridge I used to play. If one sport is banned from the participants making money and still playing at the collegiate level, then they must all be banned. Frankly, I don’t think the NCAA really gives a damn if the athletes in volleyball or tennis or water polo play for money and then play for their college team. However, it would look really bad if they were allowed to when the “major sports” athletes were not allowed, so the NCAA has to make a blanket policy.

But not for other activities, as I’ve pointed out. What, really, is the difference? Money. That’s it. The NCAA makes money off of certain major sports, makes not a dime from any other type of activity that college students do, and so they have to create a way to control the product so that they can maximize their profits.

This goes way back in history to the pretense of “amateurism” in the Olympics, tennis tournaments, and other sporting events. Both the Olympics and tennis were making hundreds of millions from gate receipts and broadcast rights without paying the athletes a dime (well, the tennis tournaments did give players “expense money” under the table, but it wasn’t a lot). Eventually, the professionals boycotted the major tennis tournaments until they forced promoters to give them prize money, and the Olympics “allowed” professionals to join in, but for the same pay as the amateurs: medals.

There have been countless articles concerning the hypocrisy of the NCAA itself, as well as the universities, making billions of dollars through broadcast contracts, gate receipts, souvenir sales, sponsor endorsements, and other income streams, without allowing any athlete to openly accept one penny–even a free lunch from a recruiter–for his or her efforts. There have been countless articles about how much the coaches make, the ADs make, and even the trainers make, while the athletes must sacrifice their bodies, perhaps even their minds, for a few cheers and a pat on the back. This article is not about those things.

This article is meant to ask one question: if college students can participate in inter-collegiate events in any other field of endeavor, and then accept pay to do the exact same thing out in the real world, what gives the NCAA the right to forbid athletes from having the same right as any other student? There is only one difference, and that’s money. The NCAA can mouth pious sermons about the sanctity of amateurism in sports until they are blue in the face, but I only have three words in response: hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites.

Get Rid of Competitive Team Sports in Public High Schools

May 21, 2012

Are competitive sports programs a requirement for a well-rounded school? There are many aspects that should be discussed around this question, as this is not a straight-forward budgetary or even a student activity question. In the simplest terms, however, it goes to the heart of what constitutes a school, be that a high school or even a university.

What is the mission?

In its most basic terms, we must ask the purpose of a school. From Little League Baseball and other organized children’s sports to private sports academies all the way up to the minor leagues, the mission is quite clear: teach the participants how to play the sport. There are no academics involved, and no one makes a fuss about the lack of them. Well, the mission at schools is also quite clear: teach the participants all of those other things, from math and language skills to science to history to philosophy. Frankly, that’s a hell of a mission for one institution to accept, let alone live up to. In the second place, that’s how most people actually make their living; a very small percentage of the population is employed by a professional sports team, and that goes for the marketing people and administrative staff as well as the players and coaches.

So why is it, with all of the other options in every community for their children to participate in organized sports, that the public screams as soon as a school eliminates sports, whether one or all of them? In my opinion, it’s because of money. Other than occasional fund raisers for a “special” trip for a team, the school district covers most of the costs of their sports teams. If they did not, the parents would have to pay for those private options, which would eat into their discretionary spending. In other words, enrolling the kids in sports would become just as much of a personal budget item as going out to dinner or a movie … or to a professional sporting event.

What is the non-monetary value of extra-curricular activities?

It is argued that sports “build team spirit, character, and the thrill of competition.” Well, so do many other activities. Band builds a lot of team spirit, without the constant contact. Art lets a person delve deeply into their inner personality, only without the interference of vitriolic parents. Science fairs encourage intense competition, but include leaps of imagination backed up with research and experimentation. Public speaking and drama provide highly-charged emotional outlets, only they combine intellectual thrills and insights into the human character that most sports don’t even pretend to encompass. And so on.

What’s more, I believe that those other types of activities are not only much closer to the actual mission of a school, but much more valuable to the overall development of the mind and spirit of a person. Perhaps more importantly, there are a lot fewer options for those sorts of activities in the average community, at least at the moderate cost that most Little Leagues or soccer leagues charge to participate. And, finally, I can’t imagine a violinist using steroids to enhance their performance, or a debater knee-capping a rival to win a competition. Competition in other eadeavors can be cut-throat, but not literally.

Don’t public school students need exercise?

Absolutely. Studies show that obesity impacts nearly one-third of the children in the U.S., creating massive health problems that ultimately impact our healthcare system. “Mens sano in corpore sano” is a maxim I’ve always believe in. But, in my opinion, competitive sports actually lead to many high schools minimizing the effectiveness of their general physical education program. In California, the standards call for a minimum of 200 minutes each ten days (20 minutes per day) for grades 1-6, with a minimum of 400 minutes each ten days (40 minutes per day) for grades 7-12, with the equivalent of two years of physical education required for high school. There are certain exceptions and waivers, but on paper that sounds reasonable.

However, the practice is a lot worse. The primary monitoring of recess in elementary schools is to watch out for bullying or injury, not to ensure that kids are actually getting exercise. In high school, periods are 50 minutes long. After 10 minutes to get into the gym and get suited up, then change afterwards, that leaves 30 minutes for possible exercise. If the students ran around the track every day, they would get their cardiovascular requirement. However, I’ve seen many instances where a P.E. teacher cannot monitor 40-50 kids adequately, so many either move listlessly or stand around and talk.

Because certain students participate in competitive sports, they are excused from P.E. That’s totally reasonable, whether the sport is part of a school program or outside of school. But those who do not participate in verified activities – which constitute the vast majority – are given short-shrift in this aspect.

Allow the community sports programs to take care of that competitive fire. Put the resources into ensuring that the students at school get adequate exercise. That may mean increasing time for P.E. classes to an hour and twenty minutes, as well as hiring more P.E. teachers to work with smaller groups. One of the reasons schools start early and end early is to allow time for after-school sports programs to practice and play during daylight. If we allocate our resources better, we can improve the health of our children while focusing on the correct mission, which is not to train athletes.

How much does it all cost?

In the end, almost all arguments come down to the overall operating budget for the institution. A few public schools I know of have divested themselves of competitive sports. However, I’m aware of many more that have eliminated public speaking, shop programs (auto, wood, etc.), orchestra/band, creative writing or art programs, and so on, in order to keep their sports teams. While most sports are not nearly as expensive as football (nor as dangerous, for that matter), I suspect the budget would pretty well support those other, more intellectual or career-oriented activities in lieu of competing with Little League, Pop Warner, the Amateur Athletic Union, Boy’s Club/Girl’s Club, private swim and tennis clubs, etc., not to mention all the local rec programs around.

What is the solution?

In the end, it is up to us. We must first remember the mission of our public schools, and then we must demand that the people we have entrusted with running those schools deliver the highest possible quality of education with the least frivolous budget. Keep physical education; it’s relatively cheap. In fact, longer hours and more serious exercise should be incorporated. But let other community organizations handle the competition of sports. Save the budget of public schools for more academic, enlightening activities that are usually given short shrift in the local community.

The NCAA is Hypocritical About Pay for Sports vs Other Activities

April 18, 2012

In the long-gone days when I was in college, I competed in many civic public speaking tournaments, sponsored by such organizations as the Rotary, Toastmasters, Lion’s Club, and even the city judicial oratorical contest. I won a number of cash prizes; nothing major, but up to $100, which was quite a bit in those days. I also competed in inter-collegiate debate and public speaking competitions. Another inter-collegiate competition I participated in, again winning certain prizes, was contract bridge. As a matter of fact, my primary side income during college was working as a professional bridge player at a local club. This involved teaching lessons, playing “rubber” bridge as a form of gambling, and being paid by clients to play with them in tournaments. At the time, my girlfriend played for the school orchestra, which participated in inter-collegiate musical competitions, and she also played for money for small local orchestras and at a few restaurants.

This is not meant as a form of bragging (well, not totally!), but rather setting the stage to ask the question: Why should my girlfriend and I be permitted to make money in the exact forms of competitions we were involved in as a college students, when students who were on the inter-collegiate sports teams were forbidden to take a cent, in any form or manner, related to their sport, and even other sports?

Frankly, it really doesn’t take a lot of research or contemplation to figure out why. It’s simply that no or very few spectators will pay to watch those events, and there is no outside organization, such as television or radio, willing to pay colleges money in order to broadcast or otherwise make money from those other collegiate activities. In actual fact, there are really very few inter-collegiate sports that the broadcast media want, because they are not supported by commercial messages. Obviously football and basketball are, and certain major events such as the College World Series of baseball, but really not many. Of course, the NCAA, as dictated by the college presidents, insist that the broadcast media pick up many other sports as part of the package because they want to promote those sports (read: want to pretend that they value them just as much as they value the actual revenue producing sports), but how much play does the media give those other sports, and how big of an audience do they actually draw, paying or not?

Naturally, the NCAA can’t be “hypocritical” about total amateurism versus a “student athlete” making money in any of those other sports, which oddly includes golf, which is about as athletic as the contract bridge I used to play. If one sport is banned from the participants making money and still playing at the collegiate level, then they must all be banned. Frankly, I don’t think the NCAA really gives a damn if the athletes in volleyball or tennis or water polo play for money and then play for their college team. However, it would look really bad if they were allowed to when the “major sports” athletes were not allowed, so the NCAA has to make a blanket policy.

But not for other activities, as I’ve pointed out. What, really, is the difference? Money. That’s it. The NCAA makes money off of certain major sports, makes not a dime from any other type of activity that college students do, and so they have to create a way to control the product so that they can maximize their profits.

This goes way back in history to the pretense of “amateurism” in the Olympics, tennis tournaments, and other sporting events. Both the Olympics and tennis were making hundreds of millions from gate receipts and broadcast rights without paying the athletes a dime (well, the tennis tournaments did give players “expense money” under the table, but it wasn’t a lot). Eventually, the professionals boycotted the major tennis tournaments until they forced promoters to give them prize money, and the Olympics “allowed” professionals to join in, but for the same pay as the amateurs: medals.

There have been countless articles concerning the hypocrisy of the NCAA itself, as well as the universities, making billions of dollars through broadcast contracts, gate receipts, souvenir sales, sponsor endorsements, and other income streams, without allowing any athlete to openly accept one penny–even a free lunch from a recruiter–for his or her efforts. There have been countless articles about how much the coaches make, the ADs make, and even the trainers make, while the athletes must sacrifice their bodies, perhaps even their minds, for a few cheers and a pat on the back. This article is not about those things.

This article is meant to ask one question: if college students can participate in inter-collegiate events in any other field of endeavor, and then accept pay to do the exact same thing out in the real world, what gives the NCAA the right to forbid athletes from having the same right as any other student? There is only one difference, and that’s money. The NCAA can mouth pious sermons about the sanctity of amateurism in sports until they are blue in the face, but I only have three words in response: hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites.

Our Failing Public Schools, Part II: Politicians

April 12, 2012

Section 2: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Prior to the 1970s, local politicians and school districts had control of both budget and curriculum. Because these people had to answer directly to the local voters, the people generally got the educational system they felt their children deserved. While it is undeniable that more and more authority over the public education system has been given to the legislators by the voters thanks to both public lawsuits and the passage of funding bills, much more has also been appropriated by the state and federal government. There will be a lot more on this, including Serrano vs. Priest and Proposition 13, in Part IV of this series.

A couple of examples that spring to mind are former President Bush and his alleged “No Child Left Behind” policy, and former California Governor Schwarzenegger with his massive budget cuts in education and opposition to Prop. 98. When wielding that power, politicians should bear in mind that education is not their field of expertise (unless they were teachers before being elected), and should therefore tread cautiously when enacting legislation or determining policy that impacts the public school system.

Unfortunately, it seems that most of them really consider themselves experts in the field. When I was in private industry, it was exactly the same attitude with many businessmen. The attitude was: “We went through the educational system. We graduated from college. We’ve read a few articles, talked to a few educators. We understand it perfectly.”

Well, I studied history, government and a little political science. I’ve been governed and otherwise impacted by politicians all of my life. During my years in business, I talked with a number of politicians, some as high as the senate level. I still read and hear reports on the goings on of our government and the politicians on a near daily basis. I’ve actually read many political tracts (not counting “The Prince”), from theory to practical application. Therefore, I must be an expert in politics, and could start my career as a politician tomorrow, right? Of course not. Not any more than the average politician should consider him or herself an expert in education and presume to dictate the inner workings of the public school system. So make policies, be a “watchdog”, but don’t micromanage education.

It’s bad enough that many politicians seriously interfere in the educational system without really understanding how it operates or what its mission should be. What is infinitely worse is that many of them do not care. For many politicians, education is simply a “platform issue”, something that cannot be ignored during election time, but gets short shrift once they are in office—especially when determining budget. When they do become involved, it is often “politics as usual”, a tit-for-tat approach either brokering their vote in exchange for a pet bill of their own or writing some piece of legislation that will appease one of their powerful constituent groups—or, even worse, one of their wealthy lobbyist groups. In the worst case scenario, they support changes in the educational system that will financially benefit publishers, contractors, consultants, or other business concerns that make a profit from the school system. From looking at most of the impacts on how teachers are credentialed, textbooks are chosen, curriculum is developed and how programs are instituted, the last people many politicians seem to care about are those for whom the system was actually intended: the students.

Case Scenario: In the 1970s, English teachers commonly had one textbook for grammar and punctuation, and a lot of literature, both fiction and non-fiction. Some would augment their curriculum with newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals. While academic presses were very big in colleges because professors tended to write their own texts, K-12 teachers used the primary texts that the local school board deemed fit.

After the money shifted from local districts to the state, academic publishers got really interested in producing “classroom packages”. These packages include a dozen or more texts (main text, grammar book, workbook, teacher’s guidelines, variations for different reading levels, etc.) as well as CDs to do all of those things on the computer, as well as accompanying videos, test generators, etc. These packages were different for each grade level, and each cost the district thousands of dollars. If you taught English to three different grades, you got three different sets for you and your students. Most of these materials were so “overkill” that none of the teachers used them. Are the teachers of today more stupid than those of fifty years ago? Nonsense. A good teacher could still pick up a newspaper (if there are any print editions left…) and create a lesson plan for virtually any subject.

However, now that the decision making process has been centralized, it’s easier for the big houses, such as Houghton-Mifflin, Pearson Prentice Hall or McGraw-Hill, to approach the state board of education and a few key legislators (those who serve on education-related committees) to, um, convince them to buy their units, than it was to approach every single board of education in the state. Because they have such a huge investment in a package they had to produce before they could try to sell it, guess how much more they spend wining and dining the decision makers to choose them above the declining competition?

I will leave the last word on this blog to Jennifer Marshall:

“The Constitution does not provide for a federal role in education, and public schools have traditionally been under the jurisdiction of local authorities. Washington’s intervention seems to have brought out the worst in education governance. It has led to ever-increasing spending and bureaucratic bloat while undermining schools’ direct accountability to parents and taxpayers. Federal intervention also creates a compliance burden, sapping time and money (an annual price tag to taxpayers of $25 billion) that could be more effectively deployed to achieve educational excellence.” Jennifer Marshall, “Freeing Schools from Washington’s Education Overreach”, The Heritage Foundation, April 6, 2011

Next: Our Underfunded School System

Our Failing Public Schools, Part II: Politicians

April 7, 2012

Section 1: If Only it Were a Perfect World…

In a perfect world, we would not need government, and hence no politicians. Everyone would be able to govern their own emotions, their own actions. We would find a way to resolve our conflicts. We would find a way to share our wealth, our resources. If this sounds like I’m talking about socialism, I’m not. I’m talking about each individual achieving a state of complete self-responsibility, and understanding that he or she is impacted by the condition of every other person in the world.

Of course, in a perfect academic world, everyone would be an Abraham Lincoln or a Siddhartha Gotama, a dedicated seeker of knowledge who takes care of their own education. Hence, we would need no formal teachers. After all, “teachers” are really just guides, people who facilitate the learning process. Each individual must decide, consciously or unconsciously, what information they will actually absorb, and thus what they will “learn” and believe. A person cannot be forced to learn, although they can be coerced to memorize.

But Man is only one step removed from the lower animals, and it’s probably not that big of a step. We are, in general, self-centered, greedy, lazy, and complacent in our ignorance. Hence, we need people to ensure that there is structure, order, and some viable financial way of making the wheels go ‘round for our society. Thus, the need for government. And thus, the need for a more formal system of education.

The trick, of course, is for those people who have been placed in positions of authority, or responsibility if you are an optimist, to understand their limitations and try to stick to them. Perhaps it is because we teachers have very little power, or perhaps because the primary motivation of most sincere teachers is to help others, but I believe most teachers have come to grips with the fact that they are not demigods and should stick to their duties. On the other hand, having observed politicians both directly (when I was in business I had the pleasure of working with a number of local and state politicians) and indirectly through the media for a number of decades, it is my considered opinion that most of them veer wildly in the other direction.

Section 2: Who Should be Held Accountable?

Because teachers are in the classrooms with the children, and have direct responsibility for education, they are held accountable for the performance of the students, including the standardized scores of those students. However, in many cases, the teachers have no control over the curriculum, and are also very limited in the styles of teaching they may use. (This is especially true in the Oakland Unified School District, where the District, through state direction, has mandated specific materials and methods of teaching into a “guided curriculum” where every teacher is to read the lesson from a manual and be on exactly the same schedule every day as every other teacher in the subject.) Thus, the curriculum of most low-performing schools is controlled by the district which, in most cases, takes its orders directly from the state (see the SAIT process).

Therefore, ultimately, the politicians have direct control not only over curriculum, but certainly over the Teacher Education Program. While the Board of Education fills in the details, the legislation sets all of the standards and parameters for how future teachers are trained. Therefore, how can the politicians claim the primary problem with the public education system is poor teachers, when for many years they have had full authority to create the teachers into exactly the mold they want them? If the teachers are supposed to take responsibility for student performance, even though in many cases they are hamstrung by what they are allowed to do, shouldn’t the legislators take responsibility for the performances of the teachers, when the legislature has complete control over every aspect of how teachers are trained and credentialed?

Next: Section 3: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Our Failing Public Schools – Part I, Section 4: Some of the problems teachers face in doing their jobs effectively; Is there a solution?

April 1, 2012

Unrealistic curriculum in Teacher Education Programs (TEP)

I’ve alluded to a few of the requirements in the TEP of California, and perhaps other states as well. One of the most hated by all teachers is CLAD: Cross-cultural Language and Academic Development. As is clear from the title, this was foisted upon teachers both new and existing due to the inordinate amount of immigrants into California, including those who are illegal. (That problem is discussed in depth in “Our Failing Public Schools, Part III: Illegal Immigration”.) CLAD consists of four full courses:

“Learners enrolled in this program gain a depth of knowledge regarding current theories and research in the specialized instruction of English-language development. They will develop a foundation for understanding cultural differences among English learners-and how those differences relate to academic achievement in a culturally inclusive environment. Language structure and use, and first- and second-language development is investigated. Throughout the program, strategies for instruction and assessment of a linguistically diverse student body are addressed.”

No other country in the world allows illegal aliens to attend their public schools, let alone makes special concessions that cost taxpayers vast amounts of money in order to educate them. Teachers pay for the privilege of learning how to accommodate the annual influx of students who do not speak, read or write English. As I recall, one TEP course was devoted to the teaching of children with learning disabilities, one course was devoted to the psychology of children in general, and two courses were intended to teach classroom management, which is the most critical issue all new teachers must face. But four courses are dedicated to “cultural differences”? What ever happened to the “melting pot” theory, where all legal immigrants were welcomed into the American culture?

One of the courses I was forced to take was on cultural diversity. Sounds fine in theory, but the teacher was an African-American and focused on how ill-treated African-Americans were in our public school system. We were assigned to write an essay on the history of Ebonics — that’s right, that alleged sub-language — and I wrote that it was simply poor English, not meeting any of the criteria for a separate language (which has subsequently been determined). Never mind the grade I received; the point is having to take such a course at all that emphasizes separation rather than cohesion.

Within the world of education, there is no disagreement that establishing a “learning environment” is the first priority of a teacher. If the class is unruly, if students feel threatened in any way, they are not going to be able to learn, or not very well. In my opinion, and that of many colleagues, child psychology and classroom management were subjects that should have been stressed in all states. Clearly, California politicians, who established the requirements of the TEP, are much more concerned about political correctness than in what a teacher really needs to know in order to succeed.

Little Teacher Support

In business, a good manager does not only pass on orders, they pass on knowledge and experience. In other words, they mentor the workers under their authority. Of course, they have great incentive to do so. Good workers make a manager look effective, which means raises and promotions. Effective departments usually mean profitability for the company. In all successful companies, there is a clear goal that requires a great deal of teamwork. Usually, lack of teamwork and isolated actions leads to failure.

Traditionally, there has been very little support for teachers in the classroom. While there are principals and vice-principals, those administrators are not managers in the sense of either mentoring or even monitoring the teachers. Even though the scores of students are in many ways a measure of a principal, administrators in most respects are much more closely aligned to outside entities — the school district and board, and now the state — than they are to the workers immediately under their authority. Their primary duties involve budget, supplies, curriculum, discipline, school-wide activities, maintenance, management of external services, and so on, but not the actual process of education. During my first year as a teacher-of-record in classrooms, my “student mentor” visited me three times during the year. My first year as a credentialed teacher, the VP who was responsible for evaluating my performance visited my classroom twice, for less than one period each time. In all cases, they wrote an evaluation of me as a teacher, with nary a word of how I might handle problems or improve my instructional techniques.

In 1997, the California Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Induction Program was instituted. During the last few years, many schools and districts have taken this program more seriously, although it is still marginal in many districts. Experienced teachers are given extra pay and some preparation time to mentor new teachers. They go into the classroom on a regular basis, observe the proceedings, and later discuss management, instruction, and other relevant topics to their mentee. If asked, they will on occasion model a lesson or management. While this program has a very limited time and scope, it’s still much better than the nothing that existed before.

While programs such as BTSA were slowly contributing to teacher retention, the current economic situation will soon destroy all gains. Now, even tenured teachers are being laid off, classrooms are being staffed with student teachers in such alternative-certification programs as Teach America and Project Pipeline, and even those teachers face probable layoffs before they gain tenure in order to hire new beginning teachers who come cheaply.

I’m not denigrating any of those programs: how a teacher comes to learn their job does not matter. As in any profession, it takes several years to learn how to put their school training into effective practice. If the system continues to get rid of experienced teachers in order to save money, the students suffer even more, and young people considering a career path are completely discouraged from thinking about teaching.

Is there a solution?

As I stated before, I honestly think most people who go into teaching, both young and old, want to contribute to the society, and want to help children grow into productive adults. If I were to be asked by a high school or college student whether or not they could do the state and country a good service by becoming a teacher, however, I would advise them to study the law. Not that I think we need more lawyers, or that many lawyers have altruistic intentions when entering law school. It’s because I think we need more lawyers who would make good teachers in those positions of power. After all, most politicians have a law degree, whether or not they passed the bar.

Rather than enter the frustration of the current educational system, I would say to those young people: Go into the law. Become an advocate for positive change to our political and economic systems. Become a legislator and fight for bills that will make the system better, that will benefit children and adults alike. As a teacher, you will have very little power to change more than a few lives, and it gets harder every year because of the restrictions put on teachers as to how they can discipline, influence and even teach their students. Teachers are privates in the war; cannon-fodder to be sacrificed by the generals to serve their ambitions. Become one of the generals.